Over the course of its tenure, RWO will be hosting annual conferences with international scholars and faculty sponsors.

Ordering Moments in World Politics (2021)

Looking back, what do we know about how international orders are created and destroyed? From the classical age into the modern era, orders have come and gone. What have been the circumstances and causal logics of these macro-political cycles? How do we identify and describe international orders across the ancient and modern eras? What are the theoretical debates about order building in international relations? Within the field of international relations, there is a debate about the sources and character of international order. Interestingly, it is in part a debate among realists: balance of power realists, such as Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer, and hegemonic or power transition realists, such as E.H. Carr and Robert Gilpin. There is a lively debate about how international order over the last two millennia has tended to be organized, and William Wohlforth, Barry Buzan, and others have offered sweeping arguments about the ways in which the balance of power and imperial orders have been manifest across the centuries. Much of the historical work in this area has been cast as studies of empire and the Western ascendency, while other work has looked at regions, civilizations, and resistance and counter-movements in world history. During this first year, we will attempt to bring global historians, historical sociologies, and IR scholars together to compare their framing ideas and arguments. 

Crisis and Resilience of Liberal International Order (2022)

This theme will focus on theories and debates about international order as they swirl around the crisis of the American-led postwar order. Many questions follow immediately. What precisely is the nature of the crisis? Is it a crisis of American hegemony or a deeper crisis of liberal democracy and liberal internationalism? Is it a power transition crisis or a crisis of liberal modernity? It is remarkable that over the last decade a vigorous debate has developed over the fate of the “liberal international order.” This term has become a surrogate for a diverse set of debates and agendas. Some are focused on American hegemony, others on the Western system of regimes and institutions, and still others on the deep principles of democracy, liberalism, and the rule of law. This tangle of ideas and debates needs to be sorted out. Beyond this, the second annual conference will seek to raise questions about the resiliency of political institutions. There is general agreement that the Trump administration is pursuing policies and acting in ways that jeopardize parts of the postwar system of order: its rules, roles, alliances, and organizational logic. This can be thought of as the “Trump treatment” of international order. Our researchers will evaluate the Trump treatment, and use the upheaval and uncertainty of American power and purpose to evaluate how institutions and relationships cope. Leaving aside the political debates about Trump, what can be learn from this moment about the resiliency and adaptation of modern political order?    

Reimagining World Order (2023)

The third theme will focus explicitly on the diverse models or visions of the coming international order. What kind of international order do rising states want? This leads us to think about world order debates as a sort of United Nations of geographically organized viewpoints. This might be useful as a starting point. But we will want to go further to look at alternative visions that grow out of different normative frameworks and social theories. After all, intellectual positions are not simply distributed geographically across to the world map. Intellectual positions on world order are not simply reflections of national interests; they are reflections of values and moral convictions as well. 

From the Bottom-Up and the Outside-In: The Power and Agency of Small and Weak States in Shaping World Order (2023-24)

Here we want to go back to our theory and history about the origins and remaking of international order. But our focus will not be on the leading states or hegemonic powers. Rather, we want to look more closely at weaker and peripheral states and their – often overlooked – role in shaping the ideas and agendas of order building. One inspiration for this focus is Adom Getachew’s "Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination," which offers a portrait of the ideas and statecraft of post-colonial leaders who sought to create a global space for development and political transformation. Nita Crawford has also written eloquently about postwar decolonizing movements and their impact on Western agendas for world order in her immersive "Argument and Change in World Politics: Ethics, Decolonization, and Humanitarian Intervention." Earlier scholarship has also underscored the collective origins of the post-WWII order, highlighting in particular the order-shaping role played by post-colonial, non-Western, and “non-liberal” states in Asia, Africa and Latin America. These states did not merely endorse or legitimize, post-hoc, a package of U.S. or Western ordering ideas and practices. Instead, they played a decisive role in the development of some of the order’s most elemental ideas: universal sovereignty, the right to self-determination, international human rights, and economic development. We want to tap into this rich literature.  This theme will be explored in the Spring 2024 annual conference, and it will be used to guide the select events that will be held during the program year.

China and the West:  A Struggle for Power or a Struggle for World Order? (2024-25)

This theme increasingly has defined academic debates on the logic and character of international order. Does China represent a rising power that seeks to use its growing power and influence to reshape the rules and institutions of global governance? If so, in what ways, and to what degree, will it be positioned to actually reshape the global order? In the past several years, this debate has been sharpened by scholars who have lined up on either side of these questions. Some argue that China is less “revisionist” than the conventional narrative suggests. After all, it is deeply integrated in the world economy and it is a player in most of the global and regional institutions. Iain Johnston at Harvard and Jessica Chen Weiss at Cornell are leading scholars who make versions of this argument. In some ways, it is not China but the United States, wielding its liberal internationalist vision of order, that is the revisionist state. Others turn the argument around, noting that the current Chinese leadership are making a dramatic illiberal turn, both within their domestic order and in their foreign policy pursuits. Increasingly, it is possible to see a clash between liberal and illiberal logics of world order. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had the effect of sharpening global ideological divides and illuminating ways in which China and Russia find themselves increasingly tied together in contesting Western liberalism, democracy, and rules-based order. Much of the world exists between these grand divides, seeking both to stay connected to China for trade and investment, and tied to the United States for security. Chinese scholars themselves offer different views of their own country’s grand strategic goals. In AY 2024-25, we plan to focus on these debates. 

We Earthlings:  If a Constitutional Convention for World Order Were Held, What Could We Agree Upon? (2025-26)

This theme of the sixth year is a bit more speculative. The theme is actually a question: are there deep, universal-style principles that the world’s peoples and societies can agree upon? Or, put differently, if a world-wide constitutional convention were to be held, what sorts of principles and arrangements could the participating countries ratify? The first step in laying the foundation for this programmatic year is this spring’s “Reconnecting the World” conference, in which we plan to debate foundational principles of world order. I have put out for debate a set of principles which I am calling the "Princeton Principles for World Order." In the shadow of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, and centuries of philosophical debate on the sources and limits of cosmopolitan principles of human coexistence, what can we identify today as a set of foundational world ordering commitments? This final theme will provide an opportunity to invite political theorists who study Eastern, Western, and Southern political traditions to join the debate. Our hope is that the outcome of the annual conference will be some sort of document that might be used to spark debate about ideas for the next world order.

A recording of the first of our three annual conferences is now available on our dedicated channel on YouTube